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Posts Tagged ‘Burn Area’

The trail snaked along the divide which in general means an extremely bumpy experience. When it couldn’t follow the divide directly, the trail sling shot us over a pass, deep into the valley, then rocketed us back up and over another pass on the other side.

Now, normally, this would be fantastic. High passes offered spectacular views and going into the valleys provided a wide array of water sources. However, when you’re gambling with thunderstorms, it gets interesting to say the least.

The same day that we got over Storm Lake Pass, we thought we’d have enough time to get over it and Rainbow Mountain before we dealt with typical afternoon mountain thunderstorms. Nope. One began to crash through around 11:30am when I found myself above treeline on Rainbow Mountain and noticed that the song I was listening to seemed to have extra bass in it…oh shit…thunder. Damn. I pulled the headphones out and shoved them unceremoniously in a Ziploc bag in my convenient, hand crafted, custom fanny pack (thanks Mom!) and examined the situation briefly.

I’m above treeline. The map showed trees higher on the other side than on this side. The trees directly below me are not uniform in the slightest and they are spread out. It would probably take me just as long to hike back down to uniform trees as it would to hike up and over. Great. I move upwards as fast as I could muster. The sky is turning a darker shade of gray. Boom boom boom. Fuck. That was loud and very close. I have two switchbacks to go. I began to run. Now, running with a full pack is awkward, so don’t imagine this is done gracefully. I crest the top and continue running toward the significantly more uniform trees on the other side. More thunder. Once I get to the white bark pines, I began walking swiftly again trying to get down.

About a mile down, I found Scallywag and E.D. chilling under some trees attempting to be dry and eat lunch. I joined them and we wondered if The Darkness had stopped in the trees on the other side.

The storm passed fairly quickly and blue sky began to emerge. Not long after, The Darkness appeared and we all basked in the warmth of the sun for a few moments before realizing we should be walking in the good weather. It gets tough when the weather dictates breaks and rest times instead of the body.

We got up and over another pass getting wet from rain on and off. We wanted to do more miles in this section but the weather and the constant ups and downs tired us out. We decided we needed to get to somewhere between Warren Lake and Rainbow Lake. I began to wonder about how many storms this area got because it had a lot of things named after storms and rainbows.

The stretch up to Warren Lake had switchbacks but some were hardly switchbacks. The trail went up steeply and was covered in rocks that my shoes didn’t want to grip well. By the lake, we were greeted by a large quantity of mosquitoes and Maverick going nobo!

We swapped beta on the next few sections and towns as well as what hikers were ahead and behind. All the while we swatted and murdered as many mosquitoes as possible.

Then having only a few miles left of energy, The Darkness, E.D., Scallywag, and I found a campsite that only thru-hikers would think of as a campsite. It was bumpy, weedy, rooty, and only flatish…but we were tired.

Lupines and Elephant Heads

The next morning, we walked up past Rainbow Lake, covered in lupines and elephant heads, and up toward Rainbow Pass. I stopped on top to dry out my tent and eat. The steep ups and downs had turned my appetite up dramatically. I felt like the Chester Cheetah in the Cheetos commercials where he turns the lever from “cheesy” to “dangerously cheesy” except it was “hungry” to “holy shit I’m starving and can’t eat enough.”

We only managed to get a few miles down to Johnson Lake before we decided lunch was in order. Partly because the lake was pretty and there was a great sitting log. E.D. and I stayed and began lunch while Scallywag went off to dig a cat hole. The Darkness decided she wanted to get up Pintler Pass before lunch, so she headed upward.

Then E.D. and I heard hilarity ensue. The trail made a sharp ninety degree turn away from the lake not far ahead and they had both gone to dig cat holes in similar areas. What we heard was them managing to have a conversation while pooping. That’s when you know you’ve been hiking with people a long time.

The best part about this particular lake was that there, the “North Montana” section ended on Guthook and we had to switch to “South Montana/Idaho.” We’re getting somewhere!

E.D., Scallywag, and I plugged upward and found The Darkness with a pack explosion on top of Pintler Pass complete with her tent tied down to dry out. We took a break there too.

Then Scallywag offered to share some of his jelly beans. He passed the bag to The Darkness and a sly smile grew across her face as she picked out one of each color. Scallywag didn’t notice at first, but when he did notice he gave her a menacing look which suggested that he would get her back for the atrocity of taking too many jelly beans.

After Pintler Pass, we went down into a valley then up and over another nameless but beautiful ridge that reminded me of Alaska Basin in the Tetons. We noticed that the elevation profile shifted after that from masochism to something “easier,” so we managed to push another ten miles to a spring.

However, rolling into the spring, we noticed that it was actually a mud puddle. The spring was also in a saddle which we thought would give some flat camping, but the entire area had burned leaving a mass of dead standing trees. The wind howled through them and we watched them sway dangerously. On Ley’s map, it shows that water can be found on either side of the saddle further down. Having no energy to climb another 1000 feet, we bushwhacked down about a quarter mile on the not as windy side of the saddle, found a stream, and cleared a bit of area to camp. A few of the dead logs took more than one of us to move. This area at least had less snags and less wind. We collapsed into our tents and passed out quickly.

Looking around in the morning made us laugh. Once again, no one but a thru hiker would call this home for the night.

The climb out of our less windy area was entertaining as our still tired bodies did not feel like climbing over extra blowdowns. A few miles up the trail, we took a break at Surprise Lake and wondered about whoever found the lake and was surprised by it.

As we exited the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, the terrain became a little more forgiving in terms of steepness. We would have a waterless gap toward the end of the section, however.

We came upon a nobo named Wall who told us some interesting things. One of which was how he had gotten rid of his sleeping bag for awhile, then realized that was a bad idea and had just gotten it back in Darby.

We got to Schultz creek and filled up with enough water to drink for the rest of the evening, dry camp with, and get us to Chief Joesph Pass.

Still having miles to do, we kept on walking. The miles didn’t look hard until we got to some blowdowns. Then more blowdowns. Then, the blowdowns got so thick that I couldn’t see the trail, even after climbing six vertical feet to stand on the highest one. A dirt road somewhat paralleled the trail for a few miles and the two crisscrossed. I had just crossed it about a tenth of a mile back. The blowdowns were so thick, I actually turned around and went back to follow the dirt road for a mile around the massive pile of blowdowns. Right before the road, I forced Scallywag to turn around and take the dirt road.

We intersected back with the trail a mile later and jumped back on. We saw we could jump on a mile and a half later too, but this section of trail didn’t look as bad…and it wasn’t. There were minor blowdowns, but ones easy to step over and not enough to be annoying.

Then we heard voices later and saw that the next road crossing didn’t actually cross… It just came close. E.D. and The Darkness were looking at the map and GPS.  The four of us continued onward.

Blowdowns… the trail’s there somewhere…

We came to another section rife with blowdowns. Most of these, we could just throw one leg over at a time and it wasn’t super taxing. A few, we had to go under which is definitely easier as a short person. I was grateful for my flexibility in this area.

Camping about ten miles from the pass, we stopped because we found live trees and dirt to camp on. Amazing…a campsite that non thru hikers might even deem a campsite!

The next day, we had an easy ten miles to Chief Joesph Pass where we could hitch to Darby on Loggers Day.

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We all spent that night sleeping in a ditch next to Hwy 2.  Before going to bed, we ate at the picnic tables, took advantage of the poopers with free tp, and made a discrete fire tucked back near some trees despite a blatantly obvious “no campfires” sign.  It was freezing; the wind whipped and it might have been 40 degrees then and began to steadily drop at night.  One car seemed to come and go quite frequently with a large camera and huge binoculars.

That night was super cold.  I had several layers on and put my thick New Zealand wool socks on and wrapped the bottom of my sleeping bag in a trash bag.  In the middle of the night, I still had to wrap my feet in my puff coat…they were cold again an hour later.

In the morning, Shags came over and asked if the ranger came to us too.  Confused, Dead Animal and I shook our heads only to have Inspector Gadget and Hop-a-long groan from their tents that a ranger had come.

“You guys slept straight through it!” Inspector said.  “He came here first and shone bright lights at our tents and asked us for ID.  Apparently that odd couple in the car were bird watchers who told the cops there were people rummaging through backpacks.”

“They talked to me about the campfire,” Shags said.  “The guy was cool though; he asked if we would be warm enough without it and then asked us to put it out.”

“Did you guys sleep through the dirt bikes too?” Hop-a-long asked.

“I heard them peal out,” I said

“You could hear them going all the way to 5th gear,” Dead Animal said.

“Yeah, well they almost peed into our ditch until one went ‘whoa! Dude! There’s people down there!” Inspector imitated a stoner voice.  “Pretty sure they were drunk too.”

We got a super late start at 8:30 a.m. Just in time for a 1000 ft climb.  Good morning trail!  Up, over and onto the 4th crossing of Hwy 2.  Where we slept in the ditch was the official detour around the yellow-legged frog mating, but that was a 20 mile detour for 4 PCT miles.  Yeah, right…

We did another up and over to the 5th road crossing where the old detour started: the walk, the damn road detour.  Sitting there, we decided road walking sucked, so we began walking and kept throwing our thumbs out.  As the pavement continued, our feet began to hurt, but nothing except motorcycles passed us.

In the end, we ended up walking two road miles to a campground where we yogi’ed a ride from some day walkers to a biker restaurant down the road a bit further called Newcomb Ranch.  There we ate lunch as a large hiker herd (about 11 of us) road walked and got a ride there, including Barracuda and Sparrow…Barracuda is 7 years old….

Lunch, 4 beers, and 2 shots each, we left with a six-pack to begin hitching.  With a 7-year-old, we got a ride easily from some super awesome people in a large vehicle driven by Kristi.  We went back to the 6th crossing of Hwy 2 instead of that campground which had a few mile side trail back to the PCT.

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We only had a few miles to mile 400 which we celebrated for quite a while on the side of the trail there.  Someone had made a large “400” in rocks and we took a slew of pictures.  After drinking some of the six-pack, we moved on downhill to water, then further on to the Three Points trail head.

Picnic tables reeled us in with a cooler full of trail magic soda and some water.  Dan, the trail runner, trail magic’ed us some Tecates to keep the beat strong and we camped there, by the side of the road under a tree.

Deciding to get serious, we began hiking early in the morning.  We did discover that camping near picnic tables and poopers significantly slowed us down in the mornings trying to get out.  We went up and up and oh yeah, more up.

By mile 413, we faced yet another detour…this time for poodle dog bush: renamed devil bush.  Basically, an area of land burns, then poodle dog bush takes over and spreads like wildfire.  It especially likes to grow smack dab in the middle of the trail.  The plant actually looks really pretty with sweet-smelling purple blooms, but it’s more like a poison apple of death that entices you into getting a big fat emergency room bill.

The first part of the detour took us down a dirt road about the same distance as the trail was, but the road took us down the other side of the ridge down to a fire ranger station.  Right above the station was an outhouse with a spigot next to it and a large water tank to provide shade.  The whole group posted up there for a while, even Neon and On-a-move stayed for a while as we all sat and ate as much as possible from our food bags.

When the sun had stopped sizzling our skin, we began again.  The worst of the poodle dog was supposed to be at mile 425 and then between 428 and 430, so Hop-a-long and I tried to go on the trail between miles 419 and 421 instead of walking the paved road recommended detour.  We just really did not want to walk on pavement, but the trail had quite a lot of sand going up then dove through some pretty bad poodle dog bush.  Some of it was not too bad, but there were a few parts where one of us had to use our poles to hold it for the other.  A few other times, on a contour, we would have to shimmy down a little bit to go below the poodle dog bush in the trail, but above the layer beneath.  This was more challenging because usually the sandy eroded shit would not hold your feet, so you had to walk faster to avoid your footing giving way, but not fast enough to carelessly bash into the devil bush.

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Needless to say, we walked the damn paved road after that as recommended because that wasn’t supposed to be the worst of it.  Several miles later, we decided to look for a place to crash when we came up on a burned and abandoned fire station.  Naturally, we thought it was the coolest thing ever and slept in the destroyed hand ball court.  It was super creepy…right out of a horror movie…large group…could pick us off one by one, but no, we were fine, all six of us.

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